In the spring of 2023, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Michael Gove (Secretary of Levelling Up, Housing and Community) introduced a plan to remove basic protections for people seeking asylum in the UK. The draft regulations were called the Draft Houses in Multiple Occupation (Asylum-Seeker) Accommodation (England) Regulations 2023.
Under this plan, landlords would not have to meet basic health and safety standards for people seeking asylum who were housed in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). A HMO is a house which is divided into sections, so more than 3-5 different families or separate individuals live there. This would have had devastating repercussions.
However, eight affected people (represented by Duncan Lewis Solicitors) brought a legal challenge against the plan, and at the beginning of February 2024, the Home Office dropped the plans.
This short blog outlines what happened.
The failed regulations
As outlined by this article published by the Guardian at the time:
“Under the changes, landlords of asylum seekers in England and Wales would no longer have to register with local authorities. The rules would allow landlords to house asylum seekers for two years without obtaining a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence, a standard requirement for any landlord renting to more than one household in a single property.”
A HMO licence keeps landlords accountable to their tenants by ensuring they maintain certain health and safety standards to reduce risks to their tenants. Landlords of HMO properties must report certain things to their local authority. For example, they must send a yearly gas safety certificate to the local council, and they must fit and install smoke alarms to reduce the risk of fire.
If landlords were to house people seeking asylum without having to meet these basic requirements, it would increase the risk of injury, disease, and perhaps even death, because many people would be housed in smaller spaces and without proper safeguards in place to protect them.
The government said that the idea behind this would be to speed up the process of reducing the number of people who are currently living in hotels (much like the Bibby Stockholm Barge initiative). However, the plan totally disregarded the safety of people seeking asylum – many of whom are already living in extremely difficult and unsafe conditions in hotels. You can read more about the conditions in asylum support hotels in this report published by the Refugee Council.
This shows how the lives of people seeking asylum in the UK are valued less than those of others.
By contrast, Michael Gove agreed to introduce new laws to hold landlords accountable for social housing. This law will be called ‘Awaab’s law’, named after little Awaab Ishak, a two year old boy who tragically died in December 2020 as the result of exposure to black mould in the social housing flat his family lived in.
The legal case
In response, eight people seeking asylum in the UK represented by Duncan Lewis Solicitors brought a judicial review challenge against the government. They argued that Michael Gove had acted unlawfully in adopting a policy of seeking to accommodate asylum seekers in unlicensed HMO accommodation.
They gathered evidence of the risks and breaches presented by the regulations from specialist housing organisations, local authorities, and charities, including: the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, London Borough of Newham, London Borough of Lewisham, NACCOM Network, London Property Licensing, Shelter, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), and the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex (RAMFEL).
On 6 February, the evening before the court hearing was to happen, the Government notified the court and the claimants that it would be withdrawing the draft regulations. This confirms the strength of the claimants’ case as well as the evidence provided from across society. It also confirms that the Government knew it would struggle to rebut these arguments of unlawfulness in court in favour of its ‘indefensible’ draft regulations.
You can read more about the legal arguments pursued by Duncan Lewis Solicitors in this summary.
Congratulations to the claimants, to their lawyers, and to all those involved in the pursuit of migration justice and radical solidarity.
We may have a long way to go in dismantling the Hostile Environment, and every win counts.
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